What’s the Difference Between Total Carbs & Net Carbs?

When starting a ketogenic or low-carb diet, it is important to understand the difference between total carbs and net carbs and how this impacts your daily intake. Total carbs refer to the total amount of carbohydrates in a food, while net carbs refer to the total carbs minus the fiber. Some sources recommend limiting total carbs to 20 per day, while others suggest a limit of 20 net carbs. We’ll explain everything you need to know here so you can decide the daily carb intake that’s right for you. 

Why do we limit carbs?

The ketogenic diet aims to achieve a state of ketosis where the body burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. This is achieved by drastically reducing carbohydrate intake, which allows the body to produce ketones from stored and consumed fats. To maintain this state and experience the benefits of ketosis, it is important to continue limiting carbohydrate intake. However, it is important to understand the difference between total and net carbs, as this can impact the amount of carbohydrates that should be consumed daily.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat per Day on a Keto Diet?

Total Carbs

It is commonly recommended by healthcare professionals that individuals following a ketogenic diet for medical reasons, such as treating cancer or epilepsy, should limit their carbohydrate intake to 20 grams of total carbohydrates per day. This strict adherence ensures maximum benefits from reaching higher levels of ketones. “Total carbs” refers to the entire amount of carbohydrates consumed in a day. To be successful on this type of diet, it is important to track and monitor your food intake, including macronutrients such as carbohydrates, using a tracking tool or app to ensure that you are staying within your desired carb intake limits.

Net Carbs

For the general population, experts generally agree that staying in ketosis, or maintaining ketone levels of at least 0.5mmol/L, is possible by consuming 20 grams of net carbs per day. Net carbs refer to the total grams of carbohydrates in a food item after subtracting the grams of fiber and sugar alcohols. These substances are not fully digested by the body, which is why they are subtracted from the total carb count.

Net Carb Basic Formula

Net carbohydrates = total carbohydrates – fiber – sugar alcohols (if applicable).

Fiber would include both insoluble fiber and soluble fiber.

What is a Sugar Alcohol?

Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate that is commonly used as a sugar substitute in many low-carb and sugar-free products. They are a type of sugar that is not fully absorbed by the body, which is why they are subtracted from the total carb count when calculating net carbs.

Some examples of sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, and isomalt. They are often used in products such as sugar-free gum, candy, and chocolate, as well as in baking and cooking as a sugar substitute. They are generally considered to be safe for consumption, but some people may experience digestive issues when consuming large amounts.

Sugar alcohols are not exactly the same as artificial sweeteners, which are chemically derived and are not considered to be a carbohydrate. They are also different from natural sweeteners such as stevia or monk fruit extract, which come from plants and have no calories.

It is important to note that other ketogenic sweeteners can be completely subtracted from the total carbohydrate count. This is because similar to sugar alcohols, they are not digested and do not have an impact on glucose levels. These sweeteners include Allulose, Monk Fruit, and Stevia.

The Final Verdict

When tracking your carbohydrate intake on a ketogenic diet, you can choose to focus on either total carbs or net carbs. Total carbs refer to the total sum of all the carbohydrates consumed in a day, while net carbs are calculated by taking the total carbs and subtracting the fiber and sugar alcohols. You can determine these numbers by reading food labels or calculating the macronutrients of ingredients in the recipes you make.

The choice of whether to focus on total carbs or net carbs depends on your goals. If you are following a ketogenic diet for medical reasons, such as treating cancer or epilepsy, it is recommended to start with a limit of 20 total carbs per day. However, if your goal is to battle obesity, improve insulin resistance, or for weight loss, start by following a limit of 20 net carbs per day and adjust as needed.